The Sustainable Development Goals and Development Co-operation

NAECErik Solheim, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee

The Sustainable Development Goals which world leaders agreed on in 2015 are focussed on people, peace and planet. Achieving goals requires a transformational, integrated, and universal agenda that is based on effective policies, sufficient pecunia and true partnerships.

Achieving economic growth is not a miracle according to the Commission on Growth and Development (2008). Impressive progress towards the Millennium Development Goals in countries like Botswana, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Oman, Singapore and Thailand highlights that sustainable economic growth was an essential ingredient to raise the income of all, the poor in particular. The growth models of these countries carried some common flavors: the strategic integration with the world economy; the mobility of resources, particularly labor; the high savings and investment rates; and a capable government committed to growth.

The Sustainable Development Goals envision a new growth model, one that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient. In the face of mounting global challenges, a new approach to growth requires consideration of how the benefits of growth are distributed, the impact on the environment and the stability of the global financial and economic system. A growth strategy incorporating all these elements does not involve following a single recipe. This is because no single recipe exists. Timing and circumstance determine how the ingredients should be combined, in what quantities, and in what sequence (Rodrik, 2008). Limited political and financial capital for reform should focus on the most binding constraints to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.

More and better public and private resources are needed to promote sustainable development. Official development assistance (ODA) has, until recently, been seen as the main source of funding for development. Increasingly, ODA is only one part of the flows that are targeted to support development. At nearly USD 161 billion in 2013, ODA represented now only 18% of all official and private flows from the 29 member countries of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and the International Financial Institutions. In addition, better-off developing countries also received USD 190 billion in “Other Official Flows” provided at close to market terms. Private finance such as foreign direct investment and remittances as well as and private grants from philanthropic foundations and non-governmental organisations amounted to almost USD 650 billion in 2013 (OECD, 2014).

While the relative importance of ODA compared to private investments is decreasing in the middle income countries, ODA can continue contributing to their development by mobilising private flows, leveraging private investment and facilitating trade. Southern providers of development co-operation are also increasingly important. China is now a major source of development assistance, particularly in Africa. In addition, it accounts for 20% of all foreign direct investment in developing countries. Based on their own experience, Brazil and Mexico assist Latin American neighbours. Foundations have also become important actors. For instance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation now donate more to development than many OECD countries.

External Finance flows, 2013

external flows 1

external flows 2

The emerging consensus in the literature is that aid has a positive, if small effect on growth. While aid has eradicated diseases, prevented famines, and done many other good things, its effects on growth is difficult to detect given the limited and noisy data available. Tarp et al (2009) in an extensive review of the aid-growth literature concluded that the bleak pessimism of much of the recent literature is unjustified and the associated policy implications drawn from this literature are often inappropriate and unhelpful. Clemens et al (2012) re-examine three of the most influential published aid-growth papers and found that increases in aid have been followed on average by increases in investment and growth. The most plausible explanation is that aid causes some degree of growth in recipient countries, although the magnitude of this relationship is modest, varies greatly across recipients and diminishes at high levels of aid

The policy environment for development has fundamentally shifted. The Third International Conference on Financing for Development and the UN Conference on Climate Change hold great promise, but they also pose a challenge to the way the international development community does business. In response to the changing nature of the world economy and its rising complexity, new analytical approaches are needed to better understand the trade-offs and complementarities between policy objectives – e.g. between growth promoting policies and equity and environmental concerns. Addressing these concerns requires integrated approaches that breakdown silos between policy communities. Three priorities will be critical in delivering this ambitious global agenda’s: Firstly: collective policy action to address global challenges, secondly; putting people’s well-being at the centre of development efforts, and thirdly; partnerships to deliver results on the ground.

Useful links

OECD work on the Sustainable Development Goals

OECD Development Cooperation Report 2014: Mobilising Resources for Sustainable Development

Arndt, Channing and Jones, Sam and Tarp, Finn, Aid and Growth: Have We Come Full Circle? (2009). Univ. of Copenhagen Dept. of Economics Discussion Paper No. 09-22. Available at SSRN: or

Clemens M., Radelet S., Bhavnani R.and Bazzi S. Counting Chickens when they Hatch: Timing and the Effects of Aid on Growth (2012) , The Economic Journal, Volume 122, Issue 561

Commission on Growth and Development (2008), The Growth Report Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development, World Bank Washington DC

Rodrik D (2008) One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

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2 comments to “The Sustainable Development Goals and Development Co-operation”

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  1. Patricia Almeida Ashley - 16/02/2016 Reply

    Very much relevant discussion raised by the Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee on the relative amount of DAC in the total of external finance flows and, together, with the integration of agendas for development, in light of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, which is a non-binding global agreement, and the Climate Change Agenda, which is indeed a binding agreement. The 2030 UN Agenda for sustainable development, the UNFCC 2015 and the FfD3 were three global process of government led negotiations with very open and participative processes of inputs, debates and decisions.

    However, when we consider the principles and the process of a four year preparation of a trade and investment treaty as the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) with a final draft approved in october 2015 during the very same year of the three mentioned summits, also as a government led multilateral negotiation led by the United States of America, using the esqueleton of the Nafta treaty with some improvements in some clauses, we cannot find any sort of coherence, aligment or even mention to the other three summits. It is like a parallel universe or dimension: on the one hand discussions on climate, sustainability and development; on the other hand, trade and investment based on the interests of business, supported by political legitimacy of Heads of States, with not consideration to society (people), environment (planet), justice and peace, but simply the P of partnership and P of prosperity.

    Isn´t already a time for OECD to speak out loud to its OECD members as for Trade and Investment align with People, Planet and Peace? At least the OECD departments and divisions as to coherently integrated into its recommendations and analysis the 5 Ps (People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership) and not only the non-binding but mostly binding international treaties and agreements.
    I wish all success to OECD leadership as to influence its OECD members and non-members (as is the case of my own nationality – Brazil).

  2. Charles Kovacs - 17/02/2016 Reply

    I enjoyed reading this article and was glad to see someone as this author note that ODA was only a relatively small part (18%) of the total fund flows to the developing world. Indeed, I would only suggest the following:

    * Considering the distribution of “…the benefits of growth,” is essential, but growth has become slower in recent years and the outlook for the coming years is dim. In addition of course there is the perennial question of who is to decide on the distribution, the record to date is not encouraging.”

    * The role, structure and dynamics of remittances probably justifies a closer look. This is something that has been increasing rapidly and will probably continue to do so given the present trends in migration.

    * The polite skepticism about the impact of ODA is well justified by the experience of the past 65 years or so. However, in some countries, foreign aid did have a positive impact and there are probably lessons to be learned from them by the rest of the recipients.

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